Coronavirus update: Johnson & Johnson booster reportedly effective against Omicron variant

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COVID-19 tests are suddenly in short supply

Coronavirus (COVID-19) ‌tally‌ ‌as‌ ‌‌compiled‌‌ ‌by‌ ‌Johns‌ ‌Hopkins‌ ‌University.‌ ‌(Previous‌ ‌numbers‌ ‌in‌ ‌parentheses.)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌cases:‌ 53,715,547 (53,217,506)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌deaths:‌ 823,115 (821,346)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌cases:‌ 284,807,611 (283,243,283)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌deaths:‌ 5,425,516 (5,418,524)‌

Johnson & Johnson booster showed effectiveness against Omicron

Johnson & Johnson today announced new preliminary results from the South African Phase 3b Sisonke study. The results showed that its booster demonstrated 85% effectiveness against COVID-19-related hospitalization. 

The study was conducted by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and showed that the vaccine booster reduced the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 among healthcare workers in South Africa after Omicron became the dominant variant. 

"We believe that the protection could be due to the robust T-cell responses induced by the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr. Mathai Mammen, global head, Janssen Research & Development, Johnson & Johnson. “Furthermore, these data suggest that Omicron is not affecting the T-cell responses generated by our vaccine."

Demand for COVID-19 tests outpacing supplies

As the Omicron variant spreads across the nation and people return from holiday gatherings, there is an increased need for testing. But current supplies of the tests are not matching the demand, officials say.

“The U.S. is once again a day late and a dollar short in responding to the pandemic,” Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the San Francisco-based Kaiser Family Foundation, told the Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said the number of COVID-19 cases rose by roughly 60% this week, with most caused by the Omicron variant.

WHO warns of new variants

The Omicron variant won’t be the last mutation of the virus to emerge, and those that come later could be a lot worse. That’s the blunt message from the World Health Organization (WHO), which warned that later variants could be resistant to existing vaccines.

“As this pandemic drags on, it’s possible that new variants could evade our countermeasures and become fully resistant to current vaccines or past infection, necessitating vaccine adaptations,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

Tedros repeated his plea for nations to work together to improve global supplies, access to vaccines, and other infrastructure that could slow the spread of the virus.

Around the nation

  • Ohio: Gov. Mike DeWine is mobilizing an additional 1,250 additional members of the Ohio National Guard to help overwhelmed hospitals around the state. "We are so maxed. We are tired and we are frustrated and we want the best for all of our patients," Jennifer Hollis, a critical care nurse at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, told the Columbus Dispatch. "Please get vaccinated."

  • New Hampshire: The surge in new cases of the coronavirus has meant some restaurants have had to make tough choices. Patty B's in Dover announced that it is closing for a week after several staff members tested positive for the virus. The restaurant is still selling some products that are made ready-to-go for home ovens, but its business will still take a financial hit.

  • Tennessee: Cases of COVID-19 are up more than 100% week-over-week, putting a strain on hospitals. Health officials say the positivity rate on COVID-19 tests is running at about 20%. “When there is 19%, 20%, 25%, that’s concerning,” Dr. Loren Lipworth, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told WKRN.

  • Michigan: A Michigan schoolteacher was on a flight to Iceland just before Christmas when she tested positive for COVID-19 while over the Atlantic. Marisa Fotieo told NBC News she voluntarily isolated for the rest of the flight, a period of about five hours, in one of the aircraft’s cramped restrooms. 

  • Hawaii: Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi is asking citizens to show some personal responsibility when it comes to preventing new COVID-19 infections. Blangiardi said he has no plans to implement new restrictions, but he warned that officials will “drop the hammer if we need to.”

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